Hor Namhong protests ‘defamatory’ information
The government yesterday summoned an official from the US Embassy over what it said was “highly defamatory” biographical information on Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong that appeared inside a US diplomatic cable made public this week by the anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks.
In a statement, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that it had summoned Jeff Daigle, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy, to raise complaints over the contents of the cable, which contained information linking Mr Namhong to crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia calls for comments from the Embassy of the United States of America in Phnom Penh, on this highly defamatory report,” the statement said. The statement also requested Mr Daigle to convey Mr Namhong’s displeasure to the US State Department.
Mark Wenig, spokesman for the US Embassy, said that a meeting had taken place between Mr Daigle and Mr Namhong on Thursday.
“At that meeting, Charge Daigle related to the Foreign Minister that the US relationship with Cambodia is strong and based on common interests and shared goals,” Mr Wenig said in an e-mail. “We are confident that the partnerships the Obama administration has worked so hard to build in Cambodia will withstand this challenge.”
Mr Wenig added that Mr Daigle had forwarded the substance of his conversation with Mr Namhong to State Department officials.
Reaction from the government came after Wikileaks this week released 777 diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh covering 20 years of foreign service correspondence that spilled a cache of secrets, criticisms and suspicions into the public domain.
In a cable, which was classified as “secret” and was created in June 2002 in the name of Alexander Arvizu, the former deputy head of mission of the US Embassy, the embassy details biographical information on Mr Namhong. According to the cable, Mr Arvizu had sourced his information on Mr Namhong from an undated and unattributed file kept at the embassy.
That file is reported in the cable to have said that Mr Namhong came back to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975 but was not killed because he was a “schoolmate” of Ieng Sary, the regime’s foreign minister who is now on trial for charges of crimes against humanity.
The cable also says that Mr Namhong became head of the Khmer Rouge prison camp Beng Trabek and alleges that he and his wife collaborated in crimes there.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be reached for comment.
Mr Namhong has long claimed that he and his wife were prisoners at Boeng Trabek, and he has successfully sued, in Cambodia and France, those who have claimed otherwise, including retired King Norodom Sihanouk in 1992 and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Most recently, in 2008, Mr Namhong filed a complaint at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court claiming that opposition leader Sam Rainsy had accused him of colluding with the Khmer Rouge at the prison camp. On April 25, the court sentenced Mr Rainsy in absentia to two years in prison on charges that he defamed Mr Namhong and incited discrimination.
Mr Namhong also successfully sued Mr Rainsy for defamation in a Paris court. However, that ruling was overturned in April by France’s Cour de Cassation, the country’s court of last resort.
In another cable, created in May 2008 and classified as confidential, the US Embassy said that former US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli had met with Mr Namhong to explain his law suit against Mr Rainsy.
“Hor Namhong recited an impassioned, almost tearful soliloquy on his travails as an inmate in the Khmer Rouge Boeng Trabek re-education camp located in Phnom Penh’s suburbs,” the ambassador recounted in the cable.
“Hor Namhong asserted that he was not a camp director, but eventually became head of a committee of prisoners in one of three adjacent camps. He stated that he worked alongside other prisoners in fields, often applying human excrement to the crops, acquiring a smell that none of the prisoners could wash away.”
“Noting that both of his predecessors had been taken away and executed, he [Mr Namhong] claimed to have evidence that he, too, was on a Khmer Rouge black list of victims to be executed,” the cable added.